Going To WAR For The MVP

'16 Betts Trib

Are you aware that each year’s MVP winners receive an award called the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award? As the Baseball Writer’s Association has never really defined “most valuable”, would the results have been different over the years if it was just called the “Landis Plaque” and went to the most outstanding player in each league. In other words, do fans think in terms of most valuable player or player of the year? And, do you agree that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young Award is for pitchers?


While there have been some examples over the years of MVP winners on losing teams like Ernie Banks of the Cubs in ’58 & ’59, the general consensus is that the award should go to a player on a contending team. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown (HR, RBI’s & Batting Average) in both 1942 & 1947 but didn’t win the MVP Award in either year. In both seasons, he also led the AL in Runs, Walks, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. The winner in ’42 was Yankee 2B Joe Gordon and in ’47, it was Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yanks in 2nd place in ’42 and 14 games behind in 3rd place in ’47. If there were more than just two teams going to the post-season in the 1940’s, maybe the results would have been different.


Now that just about any team at .500 or better still has a chance for the playoffs at the end of August, will the voters expand the list of players considered for MVP? And, if “most valuable” is really the criteria, how is that defined? It seems that there is some logic in value being related to teams winning games, so maybe WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can help us determine the real contenders. After all, being a difference-maker in team wins certainly equates to a player’s true value. As a reminder, WAR represents a statistical analysis of how many wins a player is worth to his team over that of a replacement level player (think AAA or AAAA). As you’ll see in the ratings, WAR isn’t just about hitting stats for position players, it also includes advanced defensive metrics.


“Old School” baseball fans will be disappointed to know that advanced statistics have already had a major impact on how this award is viewed. Columnist Joe Posnanski has pointed out that since 2008, every MVP winner has finished top five (5) in WAR. That is about the time that this new-age statistic became somewhat mainstream. As recently as 2006, Justin Morneau won the MVP with a WAR number of 4.3. Not only were there twenty players better than that, he finished third on his own team behind Johan Santana & Joe Mauer. Juan Gonzalez won two MVP’s in the 90’s without being in the top 15 while Don Baylor (1979), Willie Stargell (1979) and Jeff Burroughs (1974) weren’t in the top 20. Those days of writers voting without doing thorough research are gone.


Stats are as of Sunday, September 16th and the WAR numbers are from Baseball-Reference.com





> Mookie Betts (10.0) of the Red Sox leads the way and his team is the best in baseball for 2018. He’s leading the league with a .338 BA and has an OPS of 1.054. Factor in 29 HR’s & 28 SB’s along with stellar defense in the OF and the number makes perfect sense. Some feel his teammate J.D. Martinez deserves consideration but he’s much more of a one dimensional player and his WAR of 5.8 is significantly lower.


> Mike Trout (9.4) of the Angels had the best WAR in baseball in both 2012 & 2013 but didn’t win the MVP either season. He captured the award in both 2014 & 2016 and his 2018 performance just might be his best ever. He leads the league in OBP (.466) and OPS (1.091) while also being an outstanding CF. Do we really understand how great this player has become? He just turned 27!


> Matt Chapman (8.2) of the over-achieving Athletics flies under the radar for most fans. He will almost certainly win the Gold Glove at 3B and in his first full season has produced a .363 OBP with 23 HR’s.


> Jose Ramirez (7.8) is the #1 contributor to the Indians success. 38 HR’s & 32 SB’s with over 100 RBI’s is MVP caliber in any season.


> Francisco Lindor (7.4) is another great young player on the Tribe and with 35 HR’s and 120 Runs, the stats are amazing for a 24 year-old. He finished 5th in the MVP voting last year.





> This league’s WAR stats are dominated by Pitchers. Max Scherzer (9.3) of the Nats is having another great season and has a chance to win his 4th Cy Young Award. He has 17 Wins while leading in both IP and K’s.


> Right behind is Aaron Nola (9.0) of the Phillies who has emerged as a true “Ace” for this young team with a record of 16-5.


> The Mets Jacob deGrom (8.8) is an unusual case, as his team has floundered and given him very little offensive support. Despite his league-leading 1.71 ERA, will the writers vote for someone with a record of 8-9?


> Seeing Kyle Freeland (7.3) on this list might be the biggest surprise. The Rockies are in the race and this young left-hander is a big reason why. Despite pitching half the time in Denver’s altitude, he’s 15-7 with a 2.96 ERA.


> Where do we find a position player to put on our ballot? The top candidates are Lorenzo Cain (6.7), Paul Goldschmidt (5.8), Javier Baez (5.7), Christian Yelich (5.4), Nolan Arenado (5.3) & Matt Carpenter (5.0).


> If you had a vote, would it be Betts & Cain? Or maybe Trout & Baez?


Just for the record, in 1942 Ted Williams led all of baseball with a WAR figure of 10.6. MVP winner Gordon had an impressive number of 8.2. In ’47, Teddy Ballgame once again led the majors at 9.9 while DiMaggio wasn’t even close to the top ten at 4.8.


If you ever drop by the Duck Pond, you’re welcome to view the extensive collection of Williams memorabilia….but you probably already figured that out.



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